Exclusive:Primary teachers asked to plug gaps in Scottish secondary schools amid staff shortages

Local authority warns of ‘unacceptable’ pressures on schools and staff

Primary teachers are being asked to teach secondary school pupils in the north-east because of teacher shortages.

Aberdeenshire Council’s education director Laurence Findlay told local Conservative MSP Liam Kerr the majority of secondary schools in the area have “significant vacancies”. It has meant subjects being removed from the curriculum, and primary specialists being employed to teach literacy and numeracy in S1 to S3.

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Senior staff are also said to be spending an “unacceptable” amount of time covering classes and vacancies, resulting in workload concerns. The official cast doubt on the council’s ability to meet the Scottish Government’s commitment to reduce the amount of time teachers spend in class.

“We cannot see how this policy aspiration can be translated into reality without a fundamental review of how (and where) our teachers are educated and how they are then inducted into the profession,” he said.

It comes as education secretary Jenny Gilruth discussed plans to work with councils on establishing a new “education assurance board”, to consider issues relating to teacher numbers across Scotland.

Rural areas, particularly in northern Scotland, have long struggled to recruit and retain sufficient teachers. The problem has been exacerbated by a fall in the number of student teachers agreeing to be sent anywhere in Scotland since the pandemic. Recent figures showed a huge shortfall in the number of people studying to become secondary teachers in Scottish universities.

Mr Findlay told Mr Kerr that Aberdeenshire Council had requested 66 newly qualified teachers for secondaries in the current school year, but was allocated 18, and ended up with 12 after six dropped out. For the coming year, the authority requested 44 and had been allocated 20.

Mr Findlay said: “It remains inadequate in terms of meeting the needs of our schools particularly as key shortage subjects such as maths, English, home economics and technical allocations remain well below requested levels.”

He also called for a “full root-and-branch review” of Initial Teacher Education, including the Teacher Induction Scheme, to ensure “an adequate supply of teachers to meet current and future demand”.

Mr Kerr, the Conservative education spokesman at Holyrood, said: “It’s completely unacceptable that our rural schools in Aberdeenshire and throughout Scotland are suffering the consequences of ill-considered, un-strategic policies under this Scottish Government.

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“These teachers are vital to the future of the north-east, as well as our young people, and losing them is bound to hamper literacy and numeracy levels, as well as limiting opportunities for pupils to learn foreign languages and technical skills.

“It’s deeply worrying that the shortage has become so chronic that Aberdeenshire Council has been left with no option, but to ask specialists based at primary schools to help with S1 to S3 classes. The impact of shortages on our already hard-working teachers who already go above and beyond for our children will be considerable.”

Despite shortages in some areas, many teachers report difficulties finding permanent jobs in Scottish schools, with statistics showing only slightly more than 30 per cent of new teachers securing a permanent post in the year after their probation.

It has previously been claimed that cash-strapped councils try to use student teachers to plug shortages, rather than pay to employ permanent teachers.

Meanwhile, in some areas, such as Glasgow, there are controversial plans to cut teacher numbers as part of efforts to balance the books.

During a Labour-led debate on education cuts in Holyrood on Wednesday, Ms Gilruth suggested that a new board could be created to look at issues relating to the recruitment and retention of teachers.

She said: “I am keen to work with Cosla to develop a new education assurance board, recognising that it is they, and not the Scottish Government, who directly employ our teachers. That has to be underpinned by the values of the Verity House Agreement, so we can collectively consider these issues in more detail.

“And I am conscious of the recruitment challenges, differing needs, across the country, in relation to the rurality of Highland Council or in Aberdeenshire, for example, compared to those in Glasgow City Council.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While the recruitment and deployment of teaching staff is the responsibility of local authorities, the Scottish Government is doing everything it can to help councils maximise the number of jobs available for teachers, including permanent posts. 

“In 2024/25, we are providing local authorities with £145.5 million to protect teacher numbers and support children’s education. While we cannot direct teachers where to work, it is important to note that teacher vacancies arise across Scotland throughout the year and we are aware that there are areas of the country with jobs available.”



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